How to Design a Garden Your Child Will Cherish
Written by Noreen Greimann
You want to set up a garden for your child.
You have searched online and discovered some neat ideas.
But then you wonder: Is she ready for a garden? Will she just dig up everything you plant with her? Will it end up being a mud pit? I don’t have a green thumb and am not sure what to actually plant in there that will grow in this area.
No worries! Today, I’m going to walk you through setting up a garden that will grow and evolve with your child.
The Early Stages of Raising a Gardener
Through my children’s gardening classes and watching my own children, I have found that there are three phases children go through as they learn how to garden. Keep these in mind as you plan your child’s garden.
Stage #1: I want to dig.
Young children live in the here and now. A 2-year old doesn’t concern himself with harvesting vegetables 3 months from now. They want to dig. They want to feel the dirt between their fingers. They want to watch the worms wiggle around.
A patch of dirt is all your child needs at this stage. Though, they will watch you closely and are likely to imitate your gardening endeavors by planting a leave or a stick.
Stage #2: I want to plant.
At this stage, it becomes obvious that your child is ready for more. Your daughter wants to have a flower in her garden. Or cherry tomatoes that she can snack on as she desires.
Be prepared for a quick change of mind. That tomato plant she HAD to have in her garden may not suit her needs any more 4 weeks later. Now, she wants flower.
Whatever it may be, give your child as much creative freedom as possible and you might be amazed what you see. Or it may be a mud pit at the end of the season. And that’s okay. It’s all part of the process.
Stage #3: I want to harvest.
At around age 4 to 5, children are getting the hang of gardening and are ready to plant and sow seeds and watch them grow into vegetables they can eat. Give your child options (see the list below) and then let her choose. Explain that plants need space to move around just like we do. Once kids get started they often want to grow everything at once.
Children at this stage can learn how to weed, keep an eye out for pesky bugs snacking on their plants and are pretty good with remembering to water their garden.
Growing a combination of ready-to-eat herbs, fast growing vegetables and slower maturing vegetables is a good idea because their patience is still not that long.
A Space to Dig and Grow
When choosing a location for your child’s garden, make sure it gets at least 4 to 6 hours of sunlight (6 to 8 hours are required for serious gardening). If possible, choose a spot in an area where your child already spends a lot of time. Otherwise, they may never pay attention to it.
Containers are a good choice because you can keep them close to the house and move them as needed. Fill with potting soil, add a bit of compost and you are good to go. And adding more pots if you’re child is becoming a garden enthusiast is easy.
I built this raised bed with a group of summer campers a couple of years ago. We change it up from year to year and I just added a small tepee for peas with the kids in my gardening class. Another class build the stick fence.
An in-ground bed is similar to a raised bed. It could be a separate area or a section in your garden or flower bed. Outline it with a border (rocks or sticks for example) to make it easy for your child to see the boundaries. If you have hard clay-rich soil, add some topsoil, compost or sand to loosen it up and make digging easier.
Plant for Success – A list of easy-peasy plants for your child’s garden
Here is a list of plants that are perfect for getting started. As you and your child become more comfortable, add whatever your heart desires.
- Lemon Balm
- Lambs Ear
- Morning Glory
- Cherry or Grape Tomatoes
- Pumpkins – Only if you have lots of space! The Jack-Be-Little variety is a good option for smaller spaces.
Want to grow something that’s not on the list? Ask me in the comments and I’ll let you in on the ups and downs of other veggies, herbs and flowers.
Add pizzazz to your child’s garden
Yes, gardens are for growing. But there are countless ways to juice up your child’s gardening adventures. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Capture your gardening adventures in a garden journal.
- Build a trellis for peas or morning glories with sticks. Stick them in the ground in a circle and tie together at the top.
- Paint rocks and sticks to decorate the garden with.
- Add wind chimes.
- Create a sign for the garden with your child’s name on it.
- Build a fence out of sticks.
- Make rhubarb leave stepping stones. Use a small one in the garden. Use a large one in front of the garden. Or create an entire path.
- Lay a path with pebbles in the garden.
- Create a space for the fairies to hang out and visit.
Let the digging begin!
Success looks very different through your child’s eyes.
Your 3-year old digging out the flower you carefully planted together half an hour ago is NOT a sign that your child is not interested in gardening.
That flower simply wasn’t a good fit. Maybe they want it in a different spot. Maybe they want a different flower. Maybe they are more concerned with the worms at the moment.
Give them the space they need. And next year, they will be ready for the next stage of gardening.
Have fun with it and enjoy!